Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder of Rakuten Inc., has a bold approach to making his company competitive in international markets. He's making employees conduct all of their communications--meetings, emails, verbal conversations--in the English language:
At the time of the 2010 announcement, only about 10 percent of Rakuten’s 6,000 Japanese employees could function in English, according to a case study by the Harvard Business School. Rakuten operated in just two foreign countries — it has since expanded into 10 more — and most of its business came from Japan. Critics argued that Rakuten’s employees, forced to hold meetings and write memos in English, would simply become less articulate, less efficient and far less happy.
At times, the two-year transition from Japanese to English — dubbed by the company as “Englishization” — has been as awkward as the term itself. Workers were told they would face demotions if they didn’t reach target test scores, and a handful of employees quit, Mikitani said. Other workers, quoted without the use of their names in the 2011 Harvard case study, saw it as an “exercise in perpetual humiliation” or as a “layoff tool.” [...]
At Rakuten, workers scrambled to improve their language skills by the July 1 target date, after which all major internal documents and meetings were to be in English. About 75 percent of Rakuten’s employees are based in Japan, the company says, and its foreign employees face the same language requirements.